LOMBOK: The holiday island of Lombok welcomed thousands of fans on Sunday (Nov 21) for Indonesia’s first superbike race on a new circuit that is part of a mega tourism infrastructure project denounced by the UN over the eviction of local families.
With a population of more than 270 million people, many of whom get around on two wheels, Indonesia has one of the world’s biggest communities of bike-race fans.
But the archipelago had not hosted a major race since 1997.
Several villages have been relocated voluntarily or by force for construction of the new Mandalika circuit. But around 40 families – along with their cattle and dogs – are still holding out in the centre of the track despite intimidation to cede their land.
Environmentalists also question the wisdom of hosting large-scale events on an island under threat from natural disasters.
The superbike spectacle on the 4.3km circuit on Sunday was a prelude to a MotoGP race – the top tier of the motorcycle Grand Prix – to be held on the island in March 2022.
“I am here to watch World Superbike. It is very cool and I almost could not believe (Indonesia has this circuit) … The event will help the economy here,” said Rini Yuniarti, a fan from Bali.
The government hopes to create thousands of jobs and attract up to 2 million foreign tourists a year with the circuit complex, which covers more than a thousand hectares bordered by white-sand beaches.
But the gleaming new project has been the subject of bitter conflict between authorities and local residents.
Near one village in the area the houses have been abandoned and a metal sign reads: “This land belongs to the state.”
But Abdul Latif, 36, and his four children have so far stayed behind because they have not received any compensation for leaving.
“Life is difficult here now … Access is very restricted,” he said. “We play cat-and-mouse with security personnel guarding the area.”
Another villager, 54-year-old Abdul Kadir, said young people struggled to get to school because they were blocked by security.
“We have to go through a tunnel to go to school,” said her 10-year-old daughter. “I would like to go to school easily like before.”
Making matters worse, local wells have run dry for six months since tunnels were built under the circuit, leaving residents without water.